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Tirah massacre: insensitive state response — by Farhat Taj

The Pakistan army simply does not have the tradition to punish its rank and file, unless the aggrieved party is also from within the army

Recently, Pakistan Air Force fighter planes bombed Sra Vella area in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, killing over 70 innocent civilians from the Kuki Khel tribe of the area and injuring dozens more. The air force bombed these people on the directives of the Pakistani Army. To add insult to the injury of the Kuki Khels, the political agent of Khyber, Mr Shafeerullah Wazir, said that 45 militants were killed and two hideouts were also destroyed in the Sra Vella bombing.

The army acknowledged the civilian deaths when media reports established, beyond doubt, that the victims were indeed innocent civilians. The chief of army staff tendered an apology to the Kuki Khel tribe and offered financial compensation of Rs 20 million to the affected families.

The day after the apology, I was utterly surprised to see that leading English and Urdu dailies carried announcements by the Kuki Khel tribesmen accepting the apology. Could the Kuki Khels be so profoundly insensitive to their own people, I wondered. The dead bodies are newly buried. The injured are still in hospitals; some are struggling for life. The grief of the affected families is too fresh. In such a situation, an apology, even if it comes from the most powerful man in Pakistan — General Kayani — would be hard to accept by the grief-stricken families. How could they publish this announcement?

With these thoughts in mind, I decided to contact the Kuki Khel tribesmen and women for their views. I discussed this issue with 16 Kuki Khel men and women. They are students, housewives, tribal leaders, farmers, people linked with the transport business and political activists.

Not a single one of them owned up to the announcement. All of them said they did not know of any fellow Kuki Khels who associated themselves with this newspaper snippet. All of them unanimously condemned it and claimed that the political agent of the Khyber Agency had issued the announcement. Nearly half of them said that it was a cheap attempt by the political agent to curry favour with the Pakistani Army and paint himself in the good books of the military establishment for his own selfish motives. The other half opined that the political agent issued the announcement on the directives of the Pakistani Army to protect the reputation of the institution in the face of the media coverage on the Kuki Khel massacre.

All of them said that General Kayani’s apology was a good symbolic gesture, but it was neither enough nor sufficient. General Kayani, they said, has to do much more to convince the Kuki Khels that the massacre was not deliberate and on purpose. They demanded an independent judicial commission to investigate the killings in the Sra Vella to determine the causes. All those in military uniform — if found guilty by the commission — must be court-martialed and dishonourably removed from service. These are the demands of the Kuki Khels.

Rejecting the army’s compensation package given to the affected Kuki Khel families as ‘peanuts and lollipops’, they demand a similar compensation to the one offered to the families of martyred officers of the Pakistani Army. The Kuki Khels, they argue, are no less loyal to the state than those officers of Pakistan.

Some of them also claimed that the state-provided food items, on their way to the affected families in Sra Vella, were confiscated by the militants linked with the Mangal Bagh group based in Bara, Khyber Agency. The authorities have made no attempts to recover the food items.

This was the view of the Kuki Khels. My own view is that the Pakistani Army should heed the Kuki Khel’s demand for a judicial commission. The Kuki Khel tribe has always been loyal to Pakistan and has resisted the incursions of the Taliban and al Qaeda in their area. A simple apology and mere peanuts and lollipops are just not enough. The Kuki Khel loyalty to the state must be responded to with an independent judicial commission and a better compensation package for the affected families.

This, however, seems to be wishful thinking on the part of the Kuki Khels and myself. The Pakistan Army simply does not have the tradition to punish its rank and file, unless the aggrieved party is also from within the army. The people accused of assassination attempts on former dictator Musharraf were given capital punishment within a short span of time. The civilian victims of army killings, especially those from FATA, were never given any justice.

Right now, Major General Nadeem Ijaz is facing an inquiry in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination case. Let us see whether the Pakistan Army will show some respect for the rule of law, either in Bhutto’s assassination or the Tirah massacre.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at bergen34@yahoo.com

Source: Daily Times, 1 May 2010

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